Q: I am a woman in my 20s, and I have a problem with facial hair. In researching this, I read an article suggesting zinc supplementation for controlling hirsutism in women. But I also found some articles that said zinc can be used by men to grow their beards. I found this confusing. What are your thoughts?
A: Your question sent us to PubMed to check the medical literature. We were fascinated to find a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of magnesium, zinc, calcium and vitamin D supplementation (Biological Trace Element Research, March 2018). In this trial, 60 women with polycystic ovary syndrome, which frequently causes hirsutism, took placebo or a combination of 100 mg magnesium, 4 mg zinc, 400 mg calcium and 200 IU vitamin D for three months. At the end of the study, the women taking the supplements had significantly less facial hair and less inflammation. These doses are quite reasonable, so you might want to try this regimen to see if it helps you.
Q: I’ve read that spices like cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, turmeric and the like are anti-inflammatory and help to prevent dementia and control blood sugar and blood pressure. As I understand it, they should be taken in moderation (1/4 teaspoon or less) with food but frequently. What can you tell me about this?
A: There is growing evidence that dementia is associated with brain inflammation (Human Molecular Genetics, April 19, 2018). Spices like sage, rosemary and lemon balm have been shown to improve memory (Phytomedicine, Jan. 15, 2018).
There also is research supporting the use of ginger or turmeric to help control blood sugar (Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Jan. 9, 2018; Pharmacological Research, February 2018).
Q: My primary reason for joining any health spa always has been because of the sauna. I was thinking I was a lazy sort. Now I read that sitting in the sauna is as good as the workout itself.
I do think most Americans are in too much of a hurry to enjoy a sauna bath. It’s unfortunate that we all spend too much time working and stressed out doing everything we are supposed to do.
A: Evidence keeps mounting that sauna bathing has health benefits. Spending 15 minutes a day in a Finnish-type sauna has been shown to reduce the risk of strokes (Neurology, online, May 2, 2018).
Other benefits may include lower blood pressure and reduced risk for dementia (American Journal of Hypertension, Nov. 1, 2017; Age and Ageing, March 1, 2017).
It’s a good idea to exercise as well as enjoy a sauna bath. Researchers have found that fitness due to aerobic exercise combined with frequent sauna bathing offers better health benefits than either alone (Annals of Medicine, March 2018).
Q: Both my mother and mother-in-law were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Mom was 76, and my mother-in-law was 72.
They lived very different lifestyles: Mom dealt with severe anxiety and depression, while my mother-in-law was a happy-go-lucky, active and vivacious health nut. The only common denominator they shared is that they both took diphenhydramine to sleep. Their doctors advised this!
Recently, an older friend at church said her doctor had advised her to do the same. I cautioned her against it.
Of course, our mothers might have developed Alzheimer’s regardless. I do believe diphenhydramine exacerbated the tendency. We must be our own health care advocates and watch out for our elderly loved ones as well.
A: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an old-fashioned antihistamine that was originally developed to treat allergies. Because it often makes people drowsy, drug companies have added diphenhydramine to over-the-counter sleeping pills. Virtually all ”PM” nighttime pain relievers contain this drug.
Diphenhydramine is an anticholinergic medicine because it interferes with the action of the brain chemical acetylcholine. Long-term use of strong anticholinergic drugs has been linked to the risk of dementia (BMJ, April 25, 2018). A review of sleep medicines in older adults concluded that ”Diphenhydramine should be avoided in the elderly” (Clinical Therapeutics, November 2016).
Q: My ophthalmologist recommended fish oil capsules, but I noticed no benefit from a 2,400 mg daily dose. However, a second ophthalmologist said that my eyes would be the last organ to receive the oil. She suggested I try increasing the dose if I could tolerate it.
I gradually went up to three 2,400 mg capsules. I have now gone from using eyedrops about 20 times a day to five or six times a day. As a retired statistician, I can assure you that is a statistically significant difference!
A: A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (April 13, 2018) found that 3,000 mg of fish oil was no better than placebo for alleviating dry eye symptoms. That said, your experience sounds compelling. Many other readers also believe fish oil helps their dry eyes. One wrote: ”Fish oil most definitely helps my dry eye problem. As soon as I started taking 2,000 mg a day, I could tell a difference. If I go off it, my eyes are dry within a couple of days. The brand matters.”
Q: I use over-the-counter athlete’s foot cream from the dollar store as an overnight remedy for cracks in the corners of my mouth. I finally figured this out for myself after many years of relying upon lip balm alone.
A: You are describing angular cheilitis (aka perleche). It is sometimes caused by moisture trapped in the corners of the mouth. This can lead to an overgrowth of fungus. That’s why an antifungal cream for athlete’s foot sometimes can help this condition.
This painful and unsightly condition also can be caused by nutritional deficiencies. You should be checked to see whether you are getting enough B vitamins, iron and zinc.
Contact the Graedons at peoplespharmacy.com.